Review: Hansel and Gretel by The Orchestra of Music Makers

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Local symphony orchestra The Orchestra of Music Makers brought the classic Grimm fairytale Hansel and Gretel to life in their performance of Engelbert Humperdinck’s operatic adaptation of the story.

Directed by Life! Theatre Award winning thespian Edith Podesta and conducted by Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Vice-Dean Chan Tze Law, Hansel and Gretel was an absolute delight for both the adults and swarms of children in the audience. The performance easily captured the dark whimsy and bringing out the magic of the theatre even with its relatively simple staging. Podesta’s direction ensured that there was always a sense of fun at every turn, and successfully integrated both orchestra and theatre together, finding ways for the cast to interact with the orchestra while never distracting from the music.

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In this interpretation of Hansel and Gretel, there were no big fancy sets, only the hint of a forest with a few white trees flanking the orchestra (designed by David Lee), and a select number of props, mostly kept to a bare minimum. The witch’s gingerbread house, for instance, was represented by a miniature house, as opposed to an actual set which Hansel and Gretel might have entered, and simply in the cast’s dedication to treating it as a real house made it a surprisingly believable setpiece.

Hansel and Gretel offered a unique opportunity for the Orchestra of Music Makers to really highlight the musicians. As opposed to placing them in an orchestra pit, invisible till the end of the show, the orchestra was placed directly onstage, allowing them to become an integral part of the show itself, proudly playing their music in full view of the audience. What i really loved was the arrangement of the music, it flowed very well with the piece as a whole. With such a enjoyable tale to tell, the music certainly helped the audience visualize the background of the scene very vividly. If one closed one’s eyes, the music could honestly speak for itself and one can imagine the entire story play out in the mind’s eye. With its team of highly trained musicians, the entire performance ran smoothly, and the well-executed pieces helped show off the orchestra’s range and professionalism as they played confidently and with gusto. Adding to the backdrop of an actual onstage opera happening, Hansel and Gretel in fact amplified the orchestra’s importance, providing strong visual aid and really helped bring it into reality.

Which brings us to our point about the performance’s cast – playing the titular daring duo were Felicitas Fuchs as Gretel and Caitlin Hulcup as Hansel. Both showcased tremendous control over their voice, and brought out the innocence of their characters’ youth, while portraying the mischievousness and innate playfulness when the two interacted with each other in their silly games and teasing of each other.

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Although Warwick Fyfe only appears in two scenes, his performance as the children’s drunken father summoned the laughs from the audience and his gravelly voice was a welcome contrast to the higher pitched ones of the other cast members. Most impressive of all was Fiona Campbell, who played the dual role of the children’s exasperated mother, as well as the cannibalistic witch hell-bent on cooking the children into bread. Particularly in the role of the witch, Campbell, clad in leopard print tights, perfectly balanced the amount of camp in her role with her presence as a genuine threat. Not many can attest to being terrifying while wielding a pink broom capable of casting magic spells, but Campbell does this with aplomb.

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One of the most visually impressive scenes was when both Hansel and Gretel found themselves lost in the forest. As blue lights cut any sense of warmth from the stage, members of new youth and children’s chorus the Volare Treble Voices (conducted by Darius Lim) assembled on the second floor. The hundred member strong chorus provided a haunting echo when Hansel and Gretel called into the empty forest, and clad in black with the sheer number of people, felt like an ominous presence threatening to our protagonists. This scene also saw the appearance of the Sleep Fairy (Evangeline Ng), whose voice sounded as soothing as a lullaby, and backed up by the Volare Treble Voices, was an appropriate end to the first part of the show prior to the intermission.

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Hansel and Gretel was a good opportunity for all the performers involved, giving equal spotlight to both the cast and orchestra, and of course, the chorus. This was a production that was full of joy and heart, and makes for an easy introduction to opera for kids – both entertaining while also being technically competent. The Orchestra of Music Makers should be proud of what they’ve created with Edith Podesta, reintroducing a Humperdinck classic to a new audience in a creative and enjoyable way that just about everyone can appreciate.

Performance attended 17/6/17

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